running training plan

The well-rounded runner

You want to improve your running, but where do you start? How about making an honest assessment of where you are right now? Most runners do this almost automatically. They know their current standard from performances at recent races or training and build on that. But, if you delve a little deeper and consider more than just your running performance you can create a far more effective training plan than they do.

What is the starting point for your next training cycle?

To find it we’ll take some clues from another coaching discipline, that of life coaching. Life coaching uses a great aid for self-assessment that we can adapt: the wheel of life. We’ll call ours the Runner’s Wheel.
Our wheel gives us a quick visual representation of the essential elements that form us as runners. Simply put a mark in each lane for each aspect and join the dots. Very quickly we can see our strengths and weaknesses; how round is your wheel?
As we all know, an uneven wheel will limit our progress. If it becomes hopelessly unbalanced it might break apart completely and illness and/or injury follows if it hasn't already appeared.

runners wheel

If that’s the big picture, how do we assess each component?
Some will be quite easy; others will demand a more considered approach.

Endurance

This is what most distance runners will regard as the most important aspect of their fitness, but as we will see here it is just one of the constituent parts. Endurance is the ability to keep going without breaking down. There is no speed element, it is simply the ability to keep running. It will be determined, to a large degree by mental strength (another of our spokes), and also the amount of running we do. You will have a good idea of your endurance from your own experiences. Not surprisingly, it becomes more important as the distance we want to run increases. For many, especially the first-time marathon runners, endurance levels will dictate success or failure.

Speed

How important is speed to the distance runner? Of course, it’s vital, become a good fast runner and you will potentially be a good distance runner. Yet, speed is often overlooked, especially when training for the longer distances. One of the things we ask our athletes to do is to run as fast as they can; maybe for just 30 or 50 metres. Often for these runners (who maybe well into middle age, and running for 20 years plus), they have never actually run completely flat out, as fast as they can, since they were at school. It can be an utter revelation to them. ‘Wow’, they say, ‘I didn’t know I could run like that!’ And these are people who week after week race 10ks or half marathons. Furthermore, it’s not until they actually try running very fast that they have any idea of their speed capability. Developing speed is the quickest route many seasoned runners can take to faster times over all distances.

Strength

What we are talking about here is the strength needed to run powerfully to the top of a hill, or through thick mud in a cross-country race. And, whilst as runners we obviously need strong legs, we also need strong cores (because that’s what supports our legs) and strong arms. In short, we need strong bodies. Not muscle-bound, but strong, efficient powerful bodies. How strong are you? Test your self: how many press-ups can you do in a minute, more than 20? How many squats, more than 40? How long can you lay on your back with your legs straight and your feet held 6 inches above the ground, half a minute? How long can you hold a plank position, a minute?
If you can’t achieve those figures, then you probably need to work on your strength a lot more.

Flexibility

There is much debate around the optimal flexibility for runners. What is largely not disputed is that excessive flexibility is not needed, but a limited range of motion will compromise running efficiency and increase injury risk. The sit and reach test is a quick and easy way to assess your own flexibility. Briefly, if when sitting on floor with straight legs you cannot reach you toes, then you are definitely not too flexible.

Technique

Everyone knows how to run, right? Running is a very complex biomechanical action and runners simply do not stumble upon the perfect running technique for their physiology. It takes expert knowledge (or guidance), practice and more practice to develop a running action that will enable you to run to your full potential and keep injury risks minimal.
Good technique is a foundation of good running.

Mental Strength

The great Kenyan runner, William Sigei, said ‘Learn to run when feeling the pain: then push harder’. How do you react when the pain sets in when climbing a long hill? Or, during the latter stages of a marathon, when your whole body is screaming at you to stop? Only by developing mental strength can you teach your mind to overrule the body. Or, as William Sigei did, set a new 10,000m world record. The mind controls our running; learn how to make yours work for you not against. Hypnosis is a great pace to start.

Support

Who is on your side? Who is not? What access do you have to expert knowledge, encouragement, and guidance? Do you run with a group of like-minded people?
Olympic gold medalist or just starting out running, a strong support network is extremely valuable.

Motivation

To do anything we must first be motivated. Running training can be very hard at times and we will only succeed if we are truly driven. How much do you want it? Do you have a focus with intermediary goals?

Nutrition

Put the wrong fuel in a car and it won’t perform. We are the same, a healthy body demands a healthy diet; what is yours like?

Rest

It is during our resting periods that our body rebuilds itself and comes back stronger and more able. Keep pushing without the breaks and sooner or later you’ll be forced to stop. For the runner, rest means getting enough sleep, taking easy days after hard training or racing, and taking longer periods of easier training or complete rest according to your schedule. An easy week every fourth week is a sensible strategy to adopt.


 

So, be honest with your own appraisal of your current running wheel. You don’t have to use these exact spokes; maybe you’d want to swap out motivation for commitment for example, or perhaps even add a spoke or two to reflect your own situation. The important thing is to appreciate that training for running involves much more than just focusing on running more. And, before we can even think about where we are heading, we need a clear picture of where we are right now.

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